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I nearly died in opera stage fall

The Swedish designer and director Mathias Clason is one of many readers who were touched by the death of Olga Enns from a fall off the stage at the Perm opera theatre. In Russia, there is little safety on stage and no compensation for accidents. The theatre volunteered to pay for Ms Enns’s funeral and for the transportation of her remains to another town, where her sister lives.

Mr Clason was fortunate to survive a similar fall. Here is his report.

mathias clason




The tragic accident of the fallen director in Perm reminded me of the great director-designer Jean-Pierre Ponelle ending his career in an orchestra pit in Munich, 1988, at 56 - and when I, shortly after, almost did the same.

As an opera or musical designer many restrictions go with the set, risks, heights, railings for surfaces over six feet above stage etc. But the pit? That gigantic swimming-pool DOWN there, full of people, cellos, harps and drums. And above people fencing, dancing, dying- hopefully just pretending to… We build over it at times to create more floor space or hide a shrunken orchestra, we put nets over it so objects and leaves and Macbeth drinking cups should not fall into – but orchestras don´t WANT to have cages and ceilings- they would go deaf.

Well, there I was in 1990. Ponelle just cold. Photo session dragged on, breaks, irritation- oh there´s a nice picture! I happened to be on stage so I backed off with my camera, and I backed- and the floor was gone!

When I awoke – luckily the orchestra was on a stage circus balcony here but the wooden seats started two feet from the four foot high stage, and one of them was in my eye. With its corner. Commercial theatre. Blood. A lot! So I fell back on bulky lightning equipment. And passed out. And woke up. Indians! Twenty at least! Had I been captured? Was it some boy dream? Oh no…I had designed them myself for ANNIE GET YOUR GUN was to open in ten days. I was rushed to the hospital and the show went on. But folks, remember: Don´t get TOO close to the audience

Mathias Clason, designer,director and librettist, Stockholm, Sweden




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  1. There is no such thing as a “tragic accident” in an Opera theatre, only “gross negligence”!!!!

  2. Sebastian Petit says:

    A theatre, like any workplace, is potentially a lethally dangerous area. Falling in a pit is something that could happen to anyone in the old days before the era of safety chains for working periods and nets for performances. But accidents can still happen even with these precautionary measures I witness the Rusalka incident at glyndebourne. However, in all seriousness, how else are you going to house an orchestra for standard format operas? The only way of removing the pit is to place the orchestra remotely and mic them. But that will never be a truly satisfactory solution to either those involved or the audience

  3. Granted there has been a tragedy, and when the dust is settled there is almost certainly a breach of Health and Safety Regulations.

    It bothers me, this fall into the orchestra pit bit. I sing and wear spectacles. This is not normally an issue as I can perform bespectacled.

    When on stage my glasses get in the way. It is the only time I wander around half-blind and perform. Knowing where the edge of the stage is and not falling feet into the arms of a very surprised string player is important. Having a clue where that is whilst complying with stage directions and performing from memory (often in a foreign language) not always the easiest of things. Thus far I’ve stayed in one piece.

    I did step backwards off staging blocks and injured my back on one occasion. The fall appeared trivial, the pain wasn’t.

    People don’t come with reversing mirrors built in, and if they are struggling to see forwards, don’t like the idea of falling backwards instead.

    I don’t know where the blame lies with the recent death of Olga Emms. She fell off the stage and now she is dead. Nothing will bring her back, but the theatrical community can help prevent another tragedy by learning from this incident.

  4. My fall was one thing, but the TRAUMA for twenty
    plus years when I get close to ‘the footlights’- maybe
    They should be brought back? Or having to cross
    The pit on some makeshift bridge during
    Rehearsal. An inch high border- better?

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